March 24, an unprecedented coalition of NATO Allies and non-NATO
contributors have been protecting civilians under threat of attack in
Libya, enforcing an arms embargo and maintaining a no-fly zone. As NATO
Secretary General Rasmussen explained, under Operation Unified Protector, NATO is doing 'nothing more, nothing less' than meeting its mandates under United Nations Security Council resolutions ." NATO, October 2011
A NATO fact sheet describes the use of military assets and personnel employed in the Libyan effort:
"NATO conducts reconnaissance, surveillance and information-gathering operations to identify those forces which present a threat to civilians. NATO air assets can then engage targets on the ground, at sea or in the air. Ships and submarines policing the arms embargo contribute to the mission on a case-by-case basis." NATO, October 2011 (author's emphasis)
NATO's task was to bring to life the UN resolution designed to "protect civilians." There was no mention of assisting the military operations of the Libyan rebels fighting the Gaddafi regime. There was no authorization to attack and destroy civilian targets. Most importantly, there was no authorization whatsoever, no matter how tortured the logic, that enabled the coordination of land and air forces to win a military victory. The stated purpose of the UN resolution was to protect civilians.
What Really Happened in Libya - the Smoking Guns
Three smoking guns destroy the claim that the UN and NATO intervened in Libya to protect civilians. They are the brutal bombardment and sacking of Sirte, the recently revealed supply of arms to the rebels by coalition partner Qatar, and the coordination and link between Libyan rebel land forces and NATO air efforts. These events took place. They are acknowledged by the parties in public media. The actions represent violations of Protocol 1 of the 1977 Geneva accord on protecting civilians and violations of the UN mandate and stated principles of NATO. Taking sides with the National Transition Council (NTC), the umbrella group for the Libyan rebels, is clearly outside the bounds of preemptive wars, even as allowed in very narrow cases in the UN Charter.
Destroying the City of Sirte
In early September, the commander of the NTC demanded that the town of Sirte surrender. While town leaders tried to negotiate a peaceful resolution, the presence of Gaddafi loyalists prevented this from happening. The population of Sirte was 80,000, the vast majority of them civilians. On October 8, NATO began a furious aerial bombing of Sirte. The entire city was affected.
The Associated Press reported on October 27 that, "Resistance in Sirte was fierce, and three weeks into the battle, anti-Gadhafi forces had advanced only a few hundred yards (meters) into the city." NATO's air bombardment broke the stalemate on the ground:
all changed after a NATO bombing assault on October 8, when the ground
did not stop shaking all night. Next morning the rebels pushed forwards,
expecting the usual fierce resistance. There was none." The Australian, October 24
without resistance, upon entering Sirte, "the rebels flattened the area
with everything they had, bringing their tanks and heavy guns into the
city and blazing away at every building standing between their own
positions and the sea." The Australian, October 24
The city of Sirte was not an aggressor in the civil war in Libya. The city did not organize attacks or officially endorse attacks. It was filled with civilians. There were also remnants of Gaddafi forces that resisted the NTC rebels' entrance into the city. These were defensive actions, at this point in the conflict. No aggressive campaign by these forces could have been envisioned. The city just happened to be Gaddafi's hometown and unable to join the new government. This was understandable since it had been bombed by the NATO-NTC alliance.
Indiscriminate Attacks on Civilians by NATO
Protocol 1 Additional to the Geneva Conventions, 1977, outlines the protections for civilians in war zones agreed to by the signatories. All of the NATO participants as well as Qatar had signed Protocol 1 concerning "any land, air or sea warfare which may affect the civilian population, individual civilians or civilian objects on land" (Article 49).
The fact that there were Gaddafi loyalists among the 80,000 civilians in Sirte did not provide NATO and the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters with an excuse to attack the city indiscriminately. Article 50 states that "The presence within the civilian population of individuals who do not come within the definition of civilians does not deprive the population of its civilian character."
The attacks by NATO and the NTC were indiscriminate according to Article 51: "Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. Indiscriminate attacks are: a) those which are not directed at a specific military objective; [or] b) those which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective." When an entire city is devastated and systematically demolished by military forces, as reported, the attack is on the entire city, not just a specific military target.